April 30, 2010

Blog hop!

Joining the hop! The Friday Blog Hop is hosted by Jennifer at Crazy For Books, and it's pretty much what it says it is. Every Friday, bloggers who blog primarily about books run around like headless chickens, visiting other bloggers who blog primarily about books.

While I probably won't be doing it every week, I do think it's a neat idea and a good way to meet more book bloggers. In future Blog Hops I'll be linking to a few blogs I liked from the previous Blog Hop, but since this is the first one I have no blogs to link to! Ah, well - to the future!

The punctum

The elusive punctum. Sounds like the frumious bandersnatch, right?

Well, not quite. Punctum is a photographic concept developed by Roland Barthes in his book Camera Lucida, published in 1980. The punctum is established in opposition to the concept of the studium, "studium denoting the cultural, linguistic, and political interpretation of a photograph, and punctum denoting the wounding, personally touching detail which establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it." Yes, I took that directly from Wikipedia. Anyway, the point of the matter is pretty much as follows: studium is more about what a photographer intended to capture when he/she set out to photograph something, and punctum is about the (sometimes) unintentional detail of a photograph that draws a particular person to that image.

I went to a poetry reading a few days ago (Lisa Robertson reading at University Press Books), and all I have to say is: Thank the mighty Muses for the punctum. Otherwise I might not have survived.

Lisa Robertson's poetry was largely forgettable to me, more interesting in the techniques she chose and the places she started thinking from than in the actual finished product. Her poetry was boring to the ear, without meaning or rhythm to differentiate each word from the next. It was a shame, I thought, because her poetry was probably much more engaging when read in print, rather than out loud.

There were a few lingering lines, in particular this: "any girl who reads is already a lost girl". What an evocative line. I could think about that one for a long time... In fact, I may start thinking about it now, and report back with more interesting thoughts. One line does not a poetry reading make, though, and I was forced to come up with the punctum to satisfy my craving for entertainment.

In this case, the punctum was Lisa's pair of glasses. An innocuous thing in itself, an unassuming pair of horn-rimmed glasses, but it was made significant by the fact that the young man who introduced her was wearing an identical pair of glasses. In that instant my mind took flight. What significance, in these glasses? The two must be connected in some way - these things don't just happen, do they? Was it a code? Were they spies, identifying themselves to each other by their one commonality? Suppositions like these broke my night out of the doldrums.

There are lessons to be learned here, though I'm not sure exactly which. One, to be sure, is that some poetry (and certainly, some prose as well) is better read on the page than read aloud, and vice versa. Poetry, specifically, is not as engaging aloud when there is little about its construction (little rhythm, rhyme, etc.) to distinguish it, off the page, from prose.

Another is that the punctum is pretty cool, and bears further thought. That night's punctum was the unexpected appearance of matching pairs of glasses. The question becomes, what punctum lies just round the corner, in tomorrow?

April 29, 2010

Awesomesauce Award

My first award! See, see? Thanks to Rebecca over at Sonshine Thoughts, who also happens to be my secret twin. See: same name, same (fairy tale, book, etc.) interests, same broken middle finger on the left hand, same high school choir background... In fact, perhaps the one important difference between us is that she didn't like Les Mis (the musical) as much as I do. Of course, that's pretty hard. I'm kind of obsessed with it. (The musical and the book. Err...)

I was thinking of doing something spectacular in honor of my first award, but time passed and I couldn't come up with anything awesome enough. So I'm just going to pass this one along to a couple awesome people I've bumped into on the blogosphere. Chances are, given how ridiculously interlinked we are, you've already heard of them.

KarenG at Coming Down the Mountain. She's one of my oldest followers, and never ceases to give thought-worthy advice and support to budding bloggers (like me). She did just get the Awesomesauce Award, but she deserves it again.

Shannon at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe. She is always funny and recently got an agent! Also, more recently, she's hosting an excellent 500 followers contest. And her banner is great. I love it. I want it.

This blog: Jawas Read, Too! I just found it, so I don't know the proprietor by name, but seriously - Jawas reading! Jawas reading books! Jawas recommending books! (The reviews are also long and very detailed, and well thought out.)

I'm going to leave it at that for now, since three is the universal magic number. More later, lovelies!

A story a day keeps the doctor away!

I know, I know. I shouldn't be starting something when I'm already way behind in the middle of my 1000 Words A Day challenge. But this has a purpose! I swear!

It's a little thing called the Story A Day challenge, wherein participants are called upon to write one complete story a day during the month of May. You may have questions: What counts as a story? How long does it have to be? Does every day really mean...gulp...every day?

The answer to those questions (and more) is: It depends on you! A story could be 50 words, or it could be 5,000. You could do every day, or you could take Sundays off, or take other days off...like the days that end in 'y'? (The rule here is that you have to state this as your intention before you start writing.)

Anyway, I'll be using this to help build the world that Project Voldemort (still without a better name - come on, guys!) exists in. Eventually (crossed fingers) I want to be able to write a whole series in this world, so the more I know about it, the better. 1000 Words A Day remains the vehicle for actually writing the story. Story A Day is soon to be the vehicle for learning more about the world it takes place in.

I will be taking the weekends off to rest my weary fingers. If interested, join me! (In writing, not in weekends off. Not that you can't join me in that too.)

April 23, 2010

More entries on a ridiculously awesome contest

I think the title says it all. Head over to Cleverly Inked to enter.

That's all for now.

April 22, 2010

Rules of the Road: Prologues

I have to admit it. I am not a fan of prologues. There. I said it, now I'm done.

Well, that's certainly one way this post could go. On the other hand, I could now begin to explore why exactly I'm not a big fan of prologues. Assisting me will be A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin, the first book I thought of that came with a prologue (although believe me, there are many more). (Warning: slight spoiler alert.)

A Game of Thrones opens on a cold icy night with a snow patrol, a couple of guys whose names we hear and instantly forget. Then, horror of horrors, they are attacked by ice monsters and die horrible deaths. That's it. Then we get to chapter one, where we find that the setting, both in time and space, has totally changed, and that the characters we thought we would need to know really don't matter. At all. You know why? Because though the sharp-eyed reader might (completely logically) assume that a lot of this book will have to do with the problem of the ice monsters, it so happens that the ice monsters don't turn up again in this book. In fact, I've read four of these behemoths (each weighing in at close to 1000 pages), and the ice monsters still haven't made a significant appearance. They've wavered icily in the background, but still have yet to enter the main plot. Or even one of the several dozen important subplots.

So what are the problems with this prologue? Well, in a book that contains over twenty main characters (each of which we're supposed to know and remember), introducing a couple of guys who are only important in that they die is just a bad idea. Next, the issue introduced in the prologue just doesn't return. I assume it will someday (otherwise, was there even a minuscule point to having the prologue?), but I still haven't seen it.

While one problem in the prologue to A Game of Thrones is particular to the book (the introduction of a couple guys with long fantasy-world names, only to kill them off five seconds later and introduce you to about twenty actually important guys with long fantasy-world names), the other problem is one that most other books with prologues suffer from. To further this conversation, let's move a step back and discuss the prologue in general.

What is the function of the prologue? It serves to introduce an issue that you're supposed to keep in the back of your mind while you read the book, because sooner or later it's going to return to haunt you. Or freeze you to death. The problem here is that by the time the prologue-issues come up again, the reader has already forgotten the prologue, which completely negates its purpose in the first place. And since most prologues are written like that, the habitual reader will start to skim the prologue, knowing that s/he'll forget about it anyway. And (if you're like me), you might just start skipping it altogether.

This is a problem (obviously). Writers write in order to get readers to read! And the existence of a prologue automatically (even before reading it!) turns me off from reading it! And if I'm just browsing at a bookstore (instead of picking up a book that was recommended to me), I'll probably just put the book back.

My thoughts concerning prologues: they're unnecessary (since the reader will have already forgotten them), and sometimes even detrimental. But if you really want a prologue, make sure it's totally relevant and necessary to the development of the story. Also, I strongly recommend doing the big reveal (Aha! So the bizarre monkey-fighter pilots were actually the clones they were trying to save! I totally get it now.) close to halfway through the story. (As in, not the very end.) Trust me. The story will have enough depth and complexity to stand on its own. The promise of the prologue should not be the only thing carrying the reader forward into the tale.

On the other hand, maybe I'm totally mistaken about prologues. Maybe they don't exist for the reasons I think they do - maybe there are other reasons I am totally oblivious to. And if that's the case, maybe prologues make complete sense, and I should stop skipping them all over the place. Anyone have any elucidating opinions on this?

Again, disclaimer: I loved A Game of Thrones once I got into it (although it took me 60-70 pages to get there), and I strongly strongly strongly recommend it to fantasy enthusiasts. But the prologue, unfortunately, was just awful. Sorry, Mr. Martin.

April 21, 2010

Win a copy of Brightly Woven (and Mistwood)

Scream! I love Alex Bracken. She is so cool. She is kind of like my uber-awesome alter-ego. As in, I totally wish I could doppelganger my way into her life. Anyway, I have been waiting and waiting and waiting to read her book, Brightly Woven, but it's so new my library doesn't have it yet, and I am too poor to go buy myself a copy. (Tears... Sniff...) This is why it gives me great pleasure to announce a contest on her blog to win a signed copy of Brightly Woven and one of Mistwood, by Leah Cypess. Everyone, go enter now!

On the other hand, don't. If you enter my chances go wayyyyy down.

April 20, 2010

On inspiration (and poetry)

Last Thursday I went to this poetry reading at Pegasus Books. (Can I just note here that Pegasus & Pendragon Books is pretty much the best name for a bookstore ever?) To be honest, I wasn't expecting much of anything. The first reader was notable only because of his chapbook-making skill, which, to be fair, was impressive. His poetry, not so much.

Laura Walker, however, was fabulous. I loved her work, and probably would have bought something if I'd come prepared with cash. The most interesting thing about her, though, was the way she described her inspiration. She had an entire series of poems in which she wrote an original poem, then ran it back and forth through online translators. Norwegian, Tagalog, Icelandic... The poems that they returned were weird and evocative and totally my thing. Even if weird/evocative poetry were not totally my thing, I still would have been intrigued by the use of translation to create poetry, and also the puzzlement this whole exercise brings to mind, of how things are lost and gained in translation.

The second series of poems she read was inspired by a birdwatching book; she would read an entry (say, on an African swallow) and write a short poem evoked by that image. This I loved as well. I am not particularly interested in birdwatching, but once she started talking about it I could suddenly see myself buying a birdwatching book and writing poems out of it. Then she continued with a series inspired by the Oxford English Dictionary. For each poem, all the language in it was taken from the OED entry for one word. And those were not short poems. (Thankfully, no OED entry is short either.)

You may wonder why we're talking about this. Well, I was sitting there in awe of the ways in which she found inspiration, and being suddenly inspired to write poetry (sometimes I write bad poetry, just so you know), and it occurred to me: would anything like this ever work in fiction? Is there a way in which little snippets of life (a birdwatching book, an OED entry, an online translator) could ever be used to find inspiration for fiction in a systematic way?

I pondered this, and the answer I came up with is (for me, at least, and in this particular form) no. They're just too small! When I write fiction I am immersed in the world of fiction. Ideas are not small, they are big! World-scaping! So while these little snippets of material may be enough to inspire me with a few lines for a poem, I don't think that I could as easily read an entry in the encyclopedia and come away with the idea for a novel.

This is not to say that it couldn't happen. In fact, it could. (I think it depends on the particular entry.) But as a systematic method of inspiration, an "I'm going to sit down every day and write something based on the next birdwatching entry" kind of method, I don't think that it works. (For me.)

On the other hand, maybe the scale of the idea is inversely related to how often it appears via such inspirational nibbles. So if I were to use this for a year, maybe I'd be able to write around 300 (bad) poems, and maybe I'd get one or two ideas for a novel?

On the other (other) hand, who knows where inspiration comes from?

Oh, I think this post has been lost. My thoughts have devolved. Let me explain...No, there is too much. Let me sum up: I loved that inspiration for poetry can come from anywhere. Hearing Laura Walker talk about her process gave me so many ideas about how to find inspiration for my own poetry. But the way I think about poetry is different than the way I think about fiction. Poetry is so very different to me than fiction, even though I do both. Maybe then my question becomes: why is fiction so different than poetry?

April 17, 2010

Owl Appreciation Day

Owl Appreciation Day is amazing. I wake up and think to myself, "Wow. Owls are awesome. I should appreciate me some owls today." So here's why you should too:

1. Owls deliver the post in Harry Potter. Also, the OWLs are the first big exams that aspiring witches and wizards must pass.

2. Owls are very wise. It's well known that many years ago, owls stayed up with their reading glasses so late that the glasses were eventually plastered on to their faces. Hence the wise owl look.

3. Athena's most awesome familiar was the owl. Since Athena is pretty much the most kick ass goddess in Greek mythology, I vote it wise to follow her lead.

4. There is an owl on what has to be the best shirt ever on Threadless. (Also, see #2.)

5. The owl's archenemy is the bat. Okay, kidding. The owl's real archenemy is the elusive jackalope.

6. There are adorable knitted owls waiting for you at Sonshine Thoughts. Go here to enter.

7. Sometimes, owls burrow.

8. Owls can spin their heads around in woozy ways.

9. David Bowie as King of the Goblins found it prudent to turn into an owl. Since David Bowie as Goblin King is awesomely creepy/cool, we must infer that owls may also be awesomely creepy/cool.

10. If you go into the woods at night and hoot, you may encounter a talking owl who will laugh at your awful owl accent and instruct you as to the correct hooting syntax and pronunciation. If that's not awesome, then what is?

In closing, a short public service announcement from the government of awesomeness: "Owls have been endorsed as intelligent choices by JK Rowling, David Bowie/Goblin King, and Athena. They all appreciate owls. So make the right choice. Make every day Owl Appreciation Day."

April 16, 2010

The Chosen One

Okayyy... Changes coming to Writer-Town! First off, the embarrassing news: I signed up for this 1000 Words A Day challenge in January. So far: 11,605.

Let us pause for a moment of shame.

Over yet? Well, let's pretend it is anyway, because this is not about past grievances - it's about moving forward. So let's go!

I have a perfectionism problem when it comes to writing, and I've found that in my particular case, the best way to get around it is to write. Like, actually write. Not type, write. You know, that thing people used to do with a pen and some paper...? I think it works for me because it becomes ridiculously difficult to delete stuff. Especially when you write in black ink. So it's less "Was that the absolute best sentence that could have been typed?" and more "Too late, sucker! Forward motion only! Onward and upward!"

Anyway, I started actually writing Project Voldemort, and it was going pretty well until last night. You see, last night I decided I'd type all that I'd written so that I could make a nifty little wordle of my pathetically lightweight manuscript to show all of you. That's where the problems hit. All the sudden I was second guessing, editing while I wrote, gasping at my appallingly bad prose... I could go on, but let's leave at this: bad. Bad idea. It completely negated what I was going for when I went off-computer in the first place. (Although I did end up finishing the type-slaughter, and I did come up with two nifty little wordles, which I will now show you.)

Wordle: Project Voldemort #8
This nifty little wordle is what I wrote by hand (the most recent components to Project Voldemort) and typed in last night.

Wordle: Project Voldemort
 And this nifty little wordle is my complete manuscript.

While I think the nifty little wordles are...well...nifty, their awesomeness is not a worthwhile reason to continue typing my story up as I write it. It looks like that's just not how I work best. So as much as I would love to post weekly word counts, that isn't going to happen. Seeing as how notebooks do not come with tool bars.

Instead, what I will be doing is figuring out something else to post as a (roughly) weekly update. Maybe which scene I completed most recently. Or the coolest thing about my story thus far. Or the stupidest character name I threw in just because his name had to be something. Anyway. I'll figure it out. Expect the first update next week!

In closing, I will say that Project Voldemort needs a new name. A real name. One of those names that will inevitably get trashed the second it's submitted to an agent, but that sounds at least mildly close to the real thing while I'm actually writing it. (As in, not Project Voldemort.) So for now, the previously-titled Project Voldemort is unnamed. The Chosen One has taken it down. We'll see what stands to take its place.

(Title suggestions welcome, by the way. Feel free to mosey over to the "Works in Progress" page to check out the very vague description I have of the plot.)

April 14, 2010

Thank goodness for small favors

Today I was preparing myself for utter humiliation, since I was going to talk about how much I love my WIP, the currently-titled Project Voldemort - and how very little I've written since we last spoke. But then I came across the most ridiculous book contest of all time, so I thought to myself, "SAVED! I can now post about this ridiculous book contest and avoid talking about my WIP, which means I still have time to write 10,000 words in one day and pretend that they were really spread out over a week!"

Anyway, Liz at Cleverly Inked is holding an enormous giveaway as her Birthday Phenomenon. Seriously - 50 authors, 53 books, all up for grabs. I don't often enter contests (and when I do, I never win), but this one seemed too good to pass by.

See you in a few days, where I will (I swear!) reveal how Project Voldemort is really going, and discuss goals for the future.

Cleverly Inked Button

April 12, 2010

Rules of the Road: Dialect

Today we're talking dialect. Why? Because it should be addressed, and it should be addressed as part of a list that I hope to compile as this blog goes on: Rules of the Road. These are bits and pieces of advice I'm giving myself (and any others who find them useful), based on my experience as a writer and as a reader. (This next is coming from me: the reader.)

I recently read The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, as part of a reading challenge on Goodreads. The Help is one of those books that's been getting a ridiculous amount of attention lately, so I sat down to read it with a grain of salt and a cup of tea, and some deep breaths. Looked at the cheerfully bright cover. Opened the cover. Flipped to chapter one. And saw... this:

"Taking care a white babies, that's what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning."

Bam. Right there in the second sentence. That otherwise innocuous 'a' immediately shouted at me: dialect. Of course that one 'a' is small, but when it's followed by a sentence that includes "before they mamas even get out a bed," you know that dialect is here to stay.

At this point I was making faces at the book and preparing for a painful journey. A few chapters later I was relieved to find that the book was narrated by three women, only one of whom narrated in dialect, so I ended up finishing the book with a pleasant, "liked-it" feel (because I did end up liking the book, notwithstanding the dialect) - but I was still less than thrilled by every section told by Ailbileen.

I do understand the drive to write in dialect, the urge to present as realistic a landscape as possible. But still, I simply don't like reading a piece written in dialect. It trips me up. When I read I want to forget that I'm reading and just sink into the story; dialect draws my attention directly to the writing and succeeds brilliantly at taking me out of the story, a feat that (I assume) most writers don't aim for.

That said, I do think there are some places that dialect, or foreign speech patterns, can work well. I don't generally have a problem, for example, with dialect in speech. It's when a character narrates a story in dialect that I lose patience - it's just too much! I also am all for the peppering (in moderation) of foreign words into dialogue or narration in order to set the scene, especially if the foreign culture being presented is one with which readers will most likely be unfamiliar. (This can be especially effective when setting the scene in a science fiction or fantasy novel, where the readers are dumped into a landscape that is completely unknown. Just don't go overboard.)

In closing, here's the rule: Don't narrate in dialect. Just don't. In smaller doses, dialect can work, but not in narration.

(Also, I did enjoy The Help. I might even go so far as to say I recommend it. It just so happened that my most recent experience with dialect came with The Help, hence its presence in my "don't do dialect" blog post.)

April 10, 2010

How green is your blog?

Emerald, baby!

Kidding. Slightly. You may have noticed a nifty little button pop up in the sidebar - this is what it's all about:

"According to a study by Harvard University, an average website causes about 0.02g (0,0008oz.) of carbon dioxide for each visit. Assuming an average blog gets 15,000 visits a month, it has yearly carbon dioxide emissions of 3,6kg (8lb.).

How much CO2 can a tree absorb? The answer varies, but the assumed values vary between 10 and 30kg (20 and 70lb.) for a tree each year. 

One tree neutralises the carbon dioxide emissions of your blog."

So how do we get around to planting these magically neutralizing (or neutralising, as they say in Germany) trees?

"Just write a short blog post about our programme “My blog is carbon neutral” and include one of the buttons on your site (ideally in the sidebar). Send the link to your blog to CO2-neutral@kaufda.de and we plant a tree for you, neutralising the carbon dioxide emissions of your blog. The trees will be planted in the spring of 2010 by the Arbor Day Foundation."

carbon neutral coupons with kaufDA.de  

There you go. Not that my blog is getting anywhere close to 15,000 visits a month, but still. When do we ever need an excuse to plant more trees?

PS: I got this from Summer at ...and this time, concentrate! She is pretty cool - she is all for planting trees.


April 8, 2010

Voldemort: Alive, Dead, or Somewhere In Between?

Some of you may remember Project Voldemort. Some of you may now note that, like its namesake, Project Voldemort hasn't been seen in quite some time. Eleven years (in book-years), to be exact.

There are several reasons for this, the main two being mono and school. I'm still getting over being sick, which makes this a grand total of one month out of commission. Since during that month I missed two weeks of school, nearly all of my time now is spent playing catch up. But in keeping with my goal of turning myself (and this blog) more writerly, I've decided that even though I'm occupied 24/7 with schoolwork, I will find some time to write each day.

I may not make it to 1000 words (as was my original goal), but by Dumbledore, there'll be something! Stay tuned for more frequent updates, as I'll be using this blog to hold myself accountable.

Now if only I could find the time... Perhaps if I used a Time-Turner?

April 6, 2010

What am I?

The time has come for a moment of truth. I've been having a lot of fun poking around the blogging world, discovering this and that, getting to know a bunch of like-minded people, and imparting my book taste to the (few) people who actually pay attention to me. It's been an enlightening few months.

But the time has come for something more. Something new and shiny and even better, I daresay. The time has come to choose my colors.

KarenG has been talking about this recently in an enlightening series of posts: pick what your blog is about, and stick with it. I've been dabbling. My interests are far flung, and they don't always overlap, and that makes Elephants On Trapezes... scattered, to say the least. While I consider all of my interests, from soccer to Rwanda to choir, to be blog-worthy, I am choosing, from this moment forth, to blog chiefly about writing.

Why? Because I was fooling around during lecture today and looking at all the writing I have saved on my laptop (some pieces dating back to 2001, if you can believe it), and remembering with a fresh mind that what I want to do - what I've always wanted to do - is be a writer. And if I'm going to do that, it's really time to get off my butt (or on my butt in front of a computer, as the case may be) and make it happen. Dream the impossible dream.

So, to orient more of my life in the direction of writing, I'm turning this blog's helm towards our noble ink-stained craft. Less about pizza. More about writing, reading, and the intersection of the two, with minimal (though still present) interludes about the rest of the world.

Like the process of redesigning my blog, this transformation will take time. It's hard to say exactly what will stay and what will go, or what my blog posts will start to consist of. But here's to now as a time for new beginnings.


April 4, 2010

Quarterly #1

La! All the books you've been waiting to hear about. These are the best of the best that I've read so far this year. Without further ado (though in no particular order)... 

Heart's Blood, by Juliet Marillier.
From Goodreads: "Anluan has been crippled since childhood, part of a curse that has besieged his family and his home of Whistling Tor. But when the young scribe Caitrin is retained to sort through family documents, she brings about unexpected changes in the household, casting a hopeful light against the despairing shadows." I admit, the first person narration was a little tough for me to get into, but the further I read in this book, the further I wanted to read. Heart's Blood is, at its heart, an original fantasy. True, it is based - loosely - upon a familiar fairy tale (although it's so cleverly disguised that I didn't pick up on it until about 4/5 of the way through the book), but the world that Marillier has created is fresh and new and so wonderful to dive into. 

Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson.
Lia must come to terms with her former best friend's death while struggling with anorexia. I was pulled into this story right from the beginning. The strength of this piece is the narration. Lia's voice shone through so clearly (and believably), forcing the reader to confront the realities of her situation: she truly believes that she must be skinnier, even though she weighs in at an already skeletal ~ 100 pounds. Wintergirls gives the reader a clear introduction to the world through an anorexic's eyes, one that I found disturbing, heart wrenching, and extremely valuable. 

The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly.
While his father remarries and has a son with his second wife, twelve-year-old David retreats into his room, still mourning the loss of his mother with only his books for company. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination, and soon finds the walls between reality and fantasy crumbling. Led by his books, David soon finds himself in a sideways fantasy realm populated by heroes and villains and a fading king, and he begins a search for the mother he believes is still alive. The Book of Lost Things is a new tale spun around the skeletons of old; readers will recognize skewed versions of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, among others, along with several characters drawn from the fabric of fairy tale. Be warned: this is not exactly a book for children. Though at times the narration is dreamy and light, the story itself is dark and in many places disturbing. This book is best read slowly, and perhaps with a light on, but it is so, so delicious. 

Fables: Sons of Empires & The Good Prince, by Bill Willingham.
Fables is getting better. These are the ninth and tenth volumes of the story, respectively, and the astute reader may remember this series from my Best of 2009 post. A quick recap: various fairy tale characters have taken refuge on Earth from the mysterious Adversary as he has conquered their home worlds. Now, problems abound as the Adversary turns his eye on taking over Earth. Gah! I love this series. I don't read many graphic novels, but these are excellent. Highly recommended for anyone who loves retellings of fairy tales. 

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, by Jessica Day George.
Gifted with the ability to understand the speech of animals, the Lass has always been strange and just barely accepted by her family. When a polar bear seeks her out and promises her family riches if only she'll accompany him to his castle, she doesn't hesitate. But the bear is not what he seems, and the Lass will soon find herself on a quest that will take her farther than she's ever gone before. Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, is a dreamy retelling of the classic fairy tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." Jessica Day George doesn't bring anything particularly innovative to her version, but there is something inherently comforting and beautiful about the familiarity of this tale. I found this a thoroughly satisfying read, much like a cup of hot chocolate on a rainy day. Lovely. 

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly.
Calpurnia Tate, a girl on the verge of growing up, would rather do anything but. The year is 1899, and when she should be acting like a lady, all she wants to do is be a scientist like her grandfather. As this book unfolds, Calpurnia forges a close relationship with her father, navigates life as a girl with six brothers, and comes to face what it means to be a girl on the edge of a new century. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is such a fun book. Calpurnia actually reminded me a little of Scout Finch, although this book is nowhere near as serious as To Kill a Mockingbird. I found this book completely charming. As a narrator, Calpurnia is infinitely sympathetic. 

The Secret Year, by Jennifer Hubbard.
Colt has a secret: he's been having an affair with Julia, a girl from the rich side of town. It's been a screwed up, amazing ride - but when Julia dies in a car crash, he finds that he can't tell anyone about the person who was such a large part of his life. And then he receives her journal, and realizes that he might not have known Julia as well as he thought. The Secret Year is great. What made this book what is was is the writing. Jennifer Hubbard's writing is fabulous. Colt's voice comes through loud and clear, and so, so real. I am so very much looking forward to the next book she writes. 

The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein.
In his heart, Enzo knows he is different from other dogs. He is a philosopher dog, infinitely intelligent, infinitely loyal to his master, Denny Swift, an aspiring race car driver. Through Enzo's eyes, we witness Denny's marriage and sorrow at the loss of his wife, and his struggle to hold on to the only thing still meaningful in his life: his daughter Zoe. I have to confess that I have a soft spot for animal narration, although it's difficult to do it well. In The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein does this well. I loved Enzo's point of view, his quirky insights into the lives of his humans, and the fact that though Enzo is an unreliable narrator, we as readers still manage to pick up the heartbreak of this book. Lovely writing. The story is ridiculously sorrowful, but comes with a happy ending. 

The King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner.
I already squee-ed about this book here, so I won't get into too much detail. It's great. Younger-adult fantasy with a pinch of spice, a dollop of moon dust, a whole great hunk of entertainment. Reprise from my earlier capsule review: I love the excellent court intrigue and Gen's (main character) overall awesomeness. This is great work, especially for fantasy-kingdom-court fiction, especially for younger-adult fiction. In short, I highly highly highly recommend it.

April 2, 2010

Sometimes bears can get very flaky

So there was no April Fool's post. Why? I suppose in order to answer that question, you'd have to turn to Ernest himself.

Unfortunately, the estimable Ernest Bear, Esq., has gone on hiatus, citing the recent hail around town as reason enough to migrate temporarily to a warmer climate. (But seriously - warmer than California? I guess he could have gone to Hawaii, although that trip can be expensive.)

There, he assures me, he is resting up, sipping honey-nectar drinks through a straw and watching the sunsets. Ah, we could all be so lucky...

Keep tuned for the first ever Quarterly, coming soon. That, at least, is not Ernest's responsibility.